SF State contingent arrives by busloads
April 24, 2008 1:35 PM
In a dream last night, Benjamin Henderson stood on the steps of the Capitol building and spoke to a crowd spread as far as he could see.
Before becoming the Associated Students Inc. president at San Jose State University, the 23-year-old political science major made it a campaign promise to march students to the California state capital in the name of improving funding for education.
“Now that I’m here, it’s exactly as I dreamed,” said Henderson, who drew strength from the memory of his cousin, a former SF State student who died from cancer this year.
Joining 2,000 students in a Sacramento rally on Monday, Henderson introduced the prominent figures from California education and government that spoke in opposition of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed reduced budget for education. Five buses came from SF State, a coalition representing school staff, faculty and students.
“We’re probably about to enter into the toughest time that SF State has had in the last 15 years,” President Robert A. Corrigan said to [X]press staff last week.
For approximately 300 SF State students, the day began at 6:30 a.m. in a chilly Malcolm X Plaza. Members of the New Front Coalition, Fight the Fees, ASI and other student organizations sat quietly, staring into the gray morning while waiting for a guide to the Sacramento-bound buses parked elsewhere on campus.
One student, Sagnicthe Salazar, 21, was not a member of any of the organizations but said she showed up to help any way she could. With a box of chalk in hand, she walked along the route to the buses drawing arrows to help guide soon-to-be travelers.
“I feel like [the march] is a definite media strategy,” said the Raza studies major, explaining that the rally would attract media attention and educate the public about the issue.
“The behind-the-scenes work will create the real change,” she added.
Two of the five buses were agreed on at the last minute, said Aaron Salazar, a 19-year-old journalism major and NFC member.
Each bus ended up full, organizers said, with so many students showing up that there weren’t enough of the free lunches to go around.
“It reminds me of field trips,” said 21-year-old biology major Jon Seo, one of the few passengers to remain awake as the bus he rode rocked quietly toward Sacramento.
During the 90-minute ride, Seo said the reduced availability of classes meant students needed to stay in school for more semesters, effectively increasing their tuition.
“So far, all the science courses are really hard to get into,” he said.
After the bus turned the corner onto the dusty Raley Field parking lot, gravel crackling underneath, riders woke up to gather their belongings. The bus leader, Aaron Salazar, rose to the front and reminded students of the schedule for the day.
Having illustrated signs including the flyer depicting a screw going into a student’s chest for the Fight the Fees group, Salazar has also been involved with the NFC since nearly the beginning, he said.
“The objective is to show the California Right that education is not what needs to be cut—it’s what needs to be saved,” he said.
SF State students joined the already thousand-strong group formed at the beginning of the route, a scene that included a flurry of handmade signs and a troop of jugglers from Humboldt State.
Each school rallied around its neon sign thrust high above the crowd: San Jose State University, UC Berkeley, City College of San Francisco and at least 20 others, representing all prongs of the California public higher education system.
When asked if he was missing any classes to march, 18-year-old SF State English literature major Tyler Curtis answered yes.
“I’m [going to] be missing a lot of classes in the next few semesters if this budget goes through,” he said.
From the back of a parked pickup truck, Lt. Governor John Garamendi, a Democrat, spoke through a megaphone to rally the crowd.
“All across California, the message is clear—don’t slam the door on our future!” he said.
Garamendi’s words also served as the cue for the march to begin, and the thousands-strong group started its noisy walk down Capitol Avenue.
Chanting phrases like “Kick us out, we’ll vote you out!” and “Education, not incarceration!” participants walked across the Tower Bridge and approximately one mile to the Capitol, with drivers honking car horns in support.
“If this budget goes through, there’s no future for myself, my husband or my family,” said Marlean Molaschi, who attends CSU Chico full-time with her husband. During the march, Molaschi pushed a stroller holding two of her children while her husband walked with the third.
A group of sixth-graders from Valley View Elementary School in El Sobrante were touring the Capitol that day and stopped to watch the demonstration on the Capitol’s steps.
“They’re doing it for these kids,” said teacher Lisa Lipscomb, who has taught for 23 years.
After arriving at the sunny lawn outside of the Capitol building, marchers listened to notable speakers from California education and government. Each speaker summoned cheers and chants from those attending, usually mentioning that California spends vastly more per prison inmate than per student. Those at the podium also argued that investing in education would ultimately increase the state’s revenue.
“You remind me of my days in college in the 1960s, when we changed America,” said Garamendi.
“At the end, either we invest in higher education or we roll the clock back and put prisons ahead of education,” said Assembly Speaker Fabián Núñez (D-Los Angeles), who also spoke.
On the bus ride back to SF State, excited talking once again turned to a largely sleeping crowd as the early day took its toll.
“If things don’t change...sooner or later, they’ll have to,” said Raychel Long, who questioned whether the rally would have any effect on the legislature. Eventually, she said, things would get so bad in education that lawmakers would practically be forced to draft a more favorable budget.
Ashley Silverthorn, 19, already works 20 hours a week to help pay for school. Despite the large turnout of students and faculty, she, like others, wondered how much impact the rally would really have.
“I’m a little worried,” she said.
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